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  • Writer's pictureHarpal Kochar

Think like an AO (Admissions officer)

Get in their shoes. when you visit a school fair make friends with them. The more you know how they are incentivized and what they want, the more cohesive and tailored will be your application.

An AO reads ~100 applications a day. 

They first review a Summary of the academics, they review the progression performance over the years. They look specifically if the student challenged themselves to select harder subjects from what was offered at the school? They then look for personal qualities. If you come across as flat or just offensive, they are thrown off. They are building a community at the school so the selection is careful and meticulous.


Recommendation letters: They want to make sure the students can handle the academic rigor. It's critical how students communicate values. They lay special emphasis on what the teachers say about the student? Care should be taken to find a teacher who can personalize a note, write the important stuff. 

  • If it’s a popular teacher, they will just regurgitate and recycle the same words. 

  • But if students provide a short note that the teacher can flip around quickly, that will go a long way. It’s not about academic performance that the teacher has to talk to. The teacher has to show the student's curiosity. for example, turn things around by reminding the teacher stuff like I really enjoyed the chapter .. by this thing.. I especially liked this especially make it specific. If a paper was submitted make sure to add it to the email. 

  • Don’t bother the teacher much. Once they have agreed they know when to get it in. 

  • If a class was taken where the student really did well.. 

  • A good letter of rec comes from where a teacher talks to character.. 

  • Like them saying this was one of best students.. 

  • 9th grade recommendations are just fine in COVID times but not 12th grade. 


The personal statement is an inch-deep mile wide. Talk about one thing and show me growth… It’s not how well-written your essay is, It’s the topic you pick. Through their essays, appeal directly to the AO. So don’t bore her with a predictable presentation. If the main essay is about something that is not mentioned anywhere else in the application, if it tells a new story, the AO is instantly more intrigued. A successful essay will illustrate a moment of growth or self-awareness, casting the student in a positive light while revealing his or her authentic voice. The essay is where you can show off those little secret things about you that they would otherwise never know,. Admissions officers rely on them to make their most nuanced decisions. Finally, Don't put links in your application to external content/ The AO pretty much will never click the link.. If you tell them that you did.. Tell me the details of what you did in the activity section of the common app. 


The activities list is short.. Don’t put full sentences.. Use numbers, semicolons. Organized 3-fundraisers raised $$. Be realistic, make the math add. Last year, pandemic school closures eliminated the clubs and sports that help students stand out from the crowd. Lockdowns took away the chance for summer jobs and internships that would have highlighted their abilities and interests. 

But services performed for the family or the neighborhood have just as much value, So do personal projects — from scientific experiments to artistic creations — undertaken when traditional activities and organizations shut down. It’s about the impact the activity has on your life and the commitment you’ve made to it,. In your activity list, the qualities and skills you gained through these experiences speak to who you are.

Demonstrated interest:

Optimally, a college or university wants to offer its spots to students who genuinely want to join its next class. The AO will look at a student’s track record of ‘touch points’ with the college to determine their likelihood of enrolling.

In the past, that might have included whether the family took a campus tour or whether the student applied in the early-action round. 

But because of the pandemic, demonstrated interest is changing. Now, if a college sends an e-mail, they’ll record whether the student opened it, or whether they clicked on the link. They’ll look at whether the student took a virtual tour. A virtual visit is not the same as being there in person, but, my gosh, did that level the playing field for students coming from every economic background.

The pandemic also spawned virtual college fairs, yielding a whole new series of touch points for colleges to monitor. Some AOs are definitely keeping track of who is engaged in those Zoom presentations. I’m telling my students, have your video on, look presentable at least from the waist up, and be ready to share your story. This could be a chance for you to shine.

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